Freedom: It’s an Inside Job

FREEDOM. I have been searching for it my entire life. I think the reason I’ve never found it is because it’s not something that can be found, in the sense that once you have it, it’s yours. It doesn’t work that way. It’s not a destination, rather, it’s a conscious choice; it’s a process. A process that happens in each and every moment.

My quest for freedom began at an early age, however, the most poignant memories around feeling an intense need for freedom come from my tumultuous teenage years. During this time, I felt trapped. Trapped in my body, trapped in my mind, trapped in my life. I wanted out. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be free. At that time in my life I thought that ending it all might perhaps be the only way I could ever find what I was looking for. But I’m glad I stuck it out, because I proved myself wrong (although it took years).

So while I didn’t end up taking my own life in my search for freedom (captain obvious speaking here), I still at that time did not have healthy tools to deal with my tortured thinking, so I turned toward an external source of relief: getting drunk (or high). As often as possible. And ya know what? It worked for a while.

I felt freedom because numbing myself with intoxicating substances provided temporary relief from my tortured thinking. However, it was a false sense of freedom, because ultimately, I became a slave to the bottle. What created temporary freedom led to a life of imprisonment. A life that relied on outside sources to free me from my suffering, which in the end only amplified my suffering.

When we rely on outside sources, we never find that which we seek. Because freedom, peace, contentment—all of these can only be found on the INSIDE.

Now, you might be thinking, what exactly is freedom? What exactly are you talking about?!? One definition is that freedom is the power to determine action without restraint. Another is that freedom is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. I like both of these definitions, and ultimately I believe that we are all seeking freedom from one thing: our thoughts. The thoughts that imprison, enslave, and restrain us—this is the cause of our suffering.

I’m not discounting the fact that some people have it HARD. Really hard. Living in circumstances that would seemingly cause anyone to suffer. But yet, time and time again people have proven that they can live in the shittiest of conditions and still feel free. Nelson Mandela and his time spent in prison comes to mind. Mandela is an example of a man who found freedom within himself despite his external circumstances. He found freedom from the thoughts that caused him to suffer.

What is interesting is that we can be in intense pain, and still choose not to suffer. Because freedom lies in our acceptance. And in trust. Trusting that life is in continual motion and what is at this moment, will not always be.

Suffering ultimately falls into three main categories:

  1. When we resist or argue with the past, present or future
  2. When we judge and/or compare the past, present or future
  3. When we attach or cling to the past, present or future

Lately, freedom has been on my mind, as I have created suffering for myself, mainly because I have been sitting in fear and uncertainty about what the future holds. Now I could sit here and berate myself with thoughts such as why the fuck are you suffering?! Shelby, you have it soooooo good. But then, there I go, judging myself—which only leads to more suffering. A negative feedback loop.

For many of us we believe that these are tumultuous times politically, economically, and socially. It can be hard (okay extremely fucking hard) to not resist, judge or attach to our thoughts about how we think things should be. But it’s possible. And, in fact, it is the only way we can experience freedom. Now this doesn’t mean that in doing this practice we stop moving towards that which we want or moving towards creating positive change in our lives and in the lives of others.

Life is full of paradox, an example being that all change starts with acceptance. Once we accept reality as it is in this moment, it is then that real change becomes possible. Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist says, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” I believe this holds true for all things. When we accept things just as they are, when we accept reality just as it is, it is then that we can tap into our power to affect change.

Through this acceptance we come to know where we can enact change, and where we can’t. The truth is that we always have the power to question our internal experience and thoughts around our circumstances.

I’m reminded of the Serenity Prayer:

God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

I’ve come to learn that freedom is just like sobriety—a habit we cultivate one day at a time. Sometimes even one moment at a time. I used to think, if only I could quit drinking, then I would be free. Well, to some extent that is true in that I am free from drinking. But I still get caught up in resisting, arguing, clinging, judging and comparing, and it is then that I feel far from free. It’s often the “I’ll be happy when…” thoughts that create the most suffering.

Thoughts such as:

I’ll be happy when I have more money…

I’ll be happy when I have more time…

I’ll be happy when I have less stress…

I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds…

I wish I didn’t have to…

I wish my kids/husband/partner would…

I shouldn’t have done…

I should have done…

All of these thoughts cause us to suffer and they steal our freedom, and we get stuck in these habitual thought patterns. We become enslaved by them, often not even realizing that this is happening.

Our inner roommate, as Michael Singer likes to call it, is a sneaky little bastard. It’s that person who lives in your head who judges, criticizes, and compares alllll day long. In order to be free, we’ve got to put the inner roommate in check. And this takes effort. It’s not going to happen overnight, so you’ve got to stick with it. You’ve got to be willing to do the work.

It takes attention and focus as Gabor Maté says In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, “It’s a subtle thing, freedom. It takes effort; it takes attention and focus to not act something like an automaton.”

Like sobriety, freedom is often found one moment at a time. It is found through catching, questioning, and releasing one thought at a time.

We’ve got to cultivate persistence and patience and we need to celebrate the small wins. Life is all about the small wins, because those small wins add up to BIG wins. A few moments of freedom end up turning into hours of freedom.

I used to think about drinking All. The. Time. When I first quit, I would beat myself up about it. When the FUCK will I be free of this thing? I realize this thought was keeping me just as trapped as drinking was. So what I did was I started to celebrate the time spent in between these thoughts.

“Oh, the thought popped up again—how cool is it that I didn’t think about it for the past five seconds. AWESOME!”

I know it sounds trivial, but the time spent not thinking about it began to grow. And I continued to celebrate those wins. This, my friend, is freedom. It’s ongoing, and often it’s about finding a small shift in perspective. Finding acceptance with what IS.

Byron Katie says, “Freedom is possible in every moment.” In fact, I think that is the only time freedom is possible. In this very moment. Right here, right now. For you. For me. For everyone. Regardless of our circumstances.

So if you are suffering, I invite you to write. Write out all of your thoughts. Then, step back and look at each one. Notice where you are resisting, arguing, judging, comparing, clinging or attaching to the past, present, or future. Notice who is noticing these thoughts—that is your center, the witness.

I find it helpful to drop into meditation. My mind often goes bat shit crazy in meditation—and THAT’S OKAY. The point is to just sit there and watch your thoughts, watch them as they move from one thought to the next. Don’t judge them or label them good or bad. They are neither good or bad, rather, the just ARE. Again, this is your witness, your center.

Next, do the work on the stickiest thoughts. Question them, turn them around, find other thoughts that perhaps might be more true. The benefit of this is that it sloooows us down. It stops us from being automatons who habitually attach to these sticky thoughts that cause us to suffer.

If you’re willing to do the work, you can be free. I ain’t saying it will be easy. But it will be worth it, because YOU ARE WORTH IT. Here’s to freedom, my friends. Our healing, our peace, our freedom is the world’s healing, peace, and freedom.

Put Your Fear in the Bitch Seat

For the past couple of years I have been a dream junkie. I write down my dreams (the ones I can remember anyways!!) and tend to the symbols that appear in them. I was recently listening to a Jungian Analyst who was giving a lecture on dream interpretation. I know. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?!? But hear me out…

The lecture suggested that if you want to find the complex at work in your life then look at your past ten or so dreams and explore the common threads. I thought, what a freaking cool idea! To my surprise, fear was the predominate emotion in my dream life. I thought this was odd, as I didn’t think that fear was significantly in my life at this moment, but in digging deeper, I realized it was there. Ohhhh, yes, it was there. In a few areas, actually. I’ve just been burying it, ignoring it, and refusing to acknowledge it.

As I continue to tend to these past dreams, and look toward my more recent dreams, I know that some of the underlying fear is related to the direction I see myself moving in the next couple of years. I love what I am doing now—teaching yoga, coaching clients, and blogging, however, I can’t continue to ignore the whispers of my soul. It has been pointing me towards something that integrates all that I have been learning and doing, and I’ve been denying it for quite some time. I’d love to tell you what direction that is—but I’m still really fucking afraid! HA! Soon enough, friends, soon enough. It won’t be long till I can walk hand in hand with fear and “come out.” Because I am using the practices I outline below, and fear is loosening its grip. I’m working through and with the fear and quietly beginning to move in the direction I know I want to go.

Over the years I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether our fear is at the forefront, or being repressed, either way, it keeps us small and holds us back.

Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Your fear must be kept in its place. (True emergencies only, please.) Your fear must not be allowed to make decisions about creativity, passion, inspiration, dreams. Your fear doesn’t understand these things, and so it makes the most boring possible decisions about them. Your fear mistakes creativity and inspiration for saber-toothed tigers and wolf packs. They aren’t. Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become.” If we are to live the lives we are destined to live, the lives we desire to live, then we must discipline our fear, place it in the back seat, and not allow it to take the wheel. Better yet, assign your fear to the bitch seat—the least desirable spot in the car. Because there’s not much space in that seat, plus you have to sit on that uncomfortable little hump, squeezed between two other people. Can you tell I have kids who constantly fight over where they will sit in the car?!? I digress…

Bottom line is that all fear does is hold us back from living a more expansive life. It keeps us from creating. It stops us dead in our tracks. As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Take a moment to consider something you are afraid of, something that you have not yet acted on because your fear is holding you back. Perhaps this includes making a career change, leaving a relationship, trying out a new activity, leaving behind an addiction, exploring a creative pursuit or following a dream.

There is a beautiful poem by Hafiz, An Infant in Your Arms. He says,

The tide of my love

Has risen so high let me flood over

You.

Close your eyes for a moment

And maybe all your fears and fantasies

Will end.

If that happened

God would become an infant in your

Arms

And then you

Would have to nurse all

Creation!

If fear was not holding you back, what would you nurse into creation? What would you do if you knew you could not fail? What would you do if you did not fear judgment from others? (This last one being my greatest struggle. Ugh.) Perhaps there is a gift in this imagined fear, the gift of direction. Mastin Kipp says, “Unless you’re in mortal danger, fear is a compass showing you where to go.” I believe there is wisdom in this as there are many others out there who have said variations of the same thing.

For example, another prominent teacher, Joseph Campbell, says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” Let’s take a moment and explore that metaphorical cave. What exactly is it that you are afraid of? Visualize all of your fears and write them down. What does it look like if the worst-case scenario came true? How does your body react? Take three deep belly breaths, breathing into your belly, expanding your rib cage, and drawing the breath into your upper chest. Don’t forget to exhale! Could you survive the worst-case scenario? Chances are you could. How many worst-case scenarios have you experienced in your life thus far? And look! You’re still alive and kickin’.

Now, visualize your courageous-self walking past those fears and farther into the cave. Visualize the best-case scenario. What do you see? What are you doing? How are you feeling? How is your body responding? Do you feel a sense of expansion or constriction? If you are feeling expansive and open-hearted as you imagine this best-case scenario, perhaps that is a sign to follow your fear, to walk into that cave, for it holds the treasure you seek.

Elizabeth Gilbert says, “I want us all liberated from the path of fear for many reasons—but mostly because it makes for such a damn boring life. Fear only ever tells you one thing: STOP. Whereas creativity, courage and inspiration only ever want you to GO. GO=motion=change=fascination=possibility=growth=LIFE. STOP=well, nothing. And nothing is always more boring than something. So…go do something.” Such brilliant words of wisdom. I fucking love this woman. I believe we are born to create and to witness creation. It is why we are here. Most everything created is the result of somebody moving past their fear. If our fear holds us back, we become stagnant and withdrawn from the raging rivers that feed our soul.

As you move towards that which you want, your fear will continue to arise. That’s okay. Give it a hug and then lovingly tell it to “fuck off.” Okay, that’s not really loving, maybe nicely tell it that you hear it, you see it, but you’re going to act anyways. The goal isn’t to be rid of fear, but rather to work with you’re fear. Again, to use the car analogy–it’s not that you kick your fear out of the car. You just don’t allow it to take the wheel.

It’s awesome that you’re afraid. It means that what you’re doing is important to you. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be afraid. Simply notice the fear. Witness it. Take a few belly breaths and relax behind it as if it were a cloud floating on by. Thank it for pointing you towards that which you desire.

I have also found a variation of one of Gabby Bernstein’s activities in her book May Cause Miracles to be quite helpful in working with fear.

Write: “I am willing to witness my fears” Write down what it is you fear.

Write: “I am willing to see this differently. I am willing to see love.”

Write: “I am afraid to _________. I am willing to see love instead of this.” What would choosing love over fear look like in this situation? Write it down.

Write: “I am willing to be courageous.”

Meditate on: “Show me the way.” Look to your dreams, to synchronicities, to signs from the universe. Trust that you are being divinely guided. Thank your fear, release it, and keep on marching forward. Do this practice, EVERY DAY.

I believe in you. I believe in me. We can do this, friends. Let’s start today. What is the direction your fear is pointing you towards? What is one step that you can take today to move in that direction?

Flip the Bird to Resistance

Flip the Bird to Resistance

Resistance. It is a beast that often gets the better of us. It comes in the form of self-doubt, procrastination, distraction, and perfectionism to name a few.  It can stop us in our tracks and keep us from that which we desire.

If there is something you care about, you are bound to encounter resistance. If you are a yogi, it may grace its presence in the form of the inability to consistently show up on the mat. If you are a writer, you will experience a period of lack of inspiration and lack of desire to show up to your craft. Have a business idea? Resistance may keep you from moving forward. Basically, It can show up in all aspects of our life, often without us knowing what is actually going on.

I experienced it this weekend when it comes to writing, and it is so sneaky, I didn’t even realize what it was until I was observing my almost ten-year-old daughter.

It has been a stormy, full moon weekend—the first weekend of the rainy season came in with a bang and it is also our first weekend in months without plans. No soccer, no play dates, and nowhere to go.  Which you’d think would be lovely. In many respects, it has been.

I’ve watched my imaginative five-year-old play all day and engage with the world around her whereas when I ask my ten-year-old to turn off the TV and find something to do she mopes around muttering:

“I’m bored”

“There’s nothing to do”

“This is the worst day ever”

(Do all you moms out there feel me?!?!)

Being the awesome mom that I am I roll my eyes and tell her to stop whining and find something to do. Anything. Just dive in and get started with something. Think outside the box. Go through the cupboards and see what’s there. Engage with something and if you don’t like it, if it doesn’t entertain you, then move onto something else.  It’s not that hard.

What’s ironic and quite hilarious is that I did not heed my own advice.

Every week I am inspired to write and this week I’ve got nothing. Nada. No inspired ideas.  I find myself mindlessly scrolling Facebook and distracting myself in every way possible instead of just. showing. up. Instead of jumping in and brainstorming ideas or just getting started and writing about anything, I decided it would be more fun to mope around and hope that I would be struck with divine inspiration.

Problem is, it doesn’t always work this way.  Instead of waiting for inspiration to come to you, you have to go to it. You have to show up. You have to do the work. You have to just get started. So I decided to get started.  I started writing and it was total shit. I could have thrown in the towel but I wasn’t going to let distraction and perfectionism get the best of me. I kept writing, and it was then that I realized this week’s blog post had a mind of its own and wanted to be about resistance because that was exactly what I was experiencing. Good ‘ole-keep-ya-down resistance.

When I realized what was going on, that I was at battle with The Beast, I decided to visit a book by Steven Pressfield, a short little gem on resistance called, Do The Work. Great title, huh?

Steven says, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower nature will elicit resistance because our lower nature loves instant gratification. And we are an instant gratification society.  So if you are engaging in anything that does not result in instant gratification, you can be sure to encounter resistance. To feel out of ideas, hesitant, uninspired, and stuck.

You can throw in the towel, think it is just going to be this way, or you can name what it is, The Beast of Resistance, and decide to go to battle.

Resistance is a thing in and of itself. It is not you. You have it, but you are not it. The real you must meet it head on if you care deeply about your endeavor. Once you get started, you are already winning.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur, a yoga teacher, a yogi, or a business owner, you have to ask:

How bad do you want it?

Why do you want it?

If you can only half-heartedly answer these questions, resistance will surely take you down.  However, if you want something badly enough, and if you care deeply enough, you will be able to defeat the resistance, to push past the perceived roadblock in front of you and commit to engagement at all costs.

Tips for working with resistance, inspired by Steven Pressfield

1. Get Started

Start before you are ready. Start without ideas. Start without inspiration. Start unmotivated. Just show up and start working, engage. Then, you are well on your way to finding that gem that you seek.

2. Stay Stupid

It sounds bad, but the point is to not try to be too smart. To not try to be perfect or full of brilliant ideas. To not wait until you feel 100% to show up. It doesn’t have to be your best. Just get going and let what comes up come up. When we try too hard, when we think everything needs to be perfect it will stop us dead in our tracks.  Or it can stop us from finishing. I think it’s better to have done something lousy than to have done nothing at all. It is better to show up at your mat and just lay there then to mindlessly scroll Facebook. At least you tried, you showed up. Chances are if you keep playing, keep engaging, and pushing on eventually divine assistance will come to your aid, and BAM! Inspiration strikes. You feel motivated. You feel excited again.

3. Have Faith

Trust that assistance will be provided if you show up and do the work.  The Muse won’t leave you hanging if you commit to engagement. It could be a short wait or a long wait, you can’t know this.  All you can do is have faith, which is great advice for anything in life. Just. Have. Faith. Keep going.

The World Needs Your Creativity

“Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody ‘a creative person’ is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.”

–Liz Gilbert

Creativity has been on my mind for quite some time. When I think back to my childhood and when I look at my own children, I see how innately creative children are.  All day long they are engaged in fantasy and imagination and are continually exploring their world with fascination, and through this, bringing creation forth.

Every day I receive the fruits of my five-year-olds creative labors in the form of gifts, pictures, structures, dances, and song to bear witness to.

At what point do we lose our connection to our God-given innate ability to create for curiosity’s sake, for the sake of fun, and simply for no reason other than we just want to and we don’t know why?

Creation and creativity are our birthright.  Whether we realize it or not, all day long we are engaged in creation.  We wake up in the morning and decide what to wear, an act of creative expression.

We prepare meals for ourselves and for our families, bringing together different ingredients in a creative act. We engage in our daily activities and our work, which is also a creative process, albeit often times not one we think of as creative, and rarely is the type of creativity that we are longing to bring forth.

I was recently listening to Carolyn Myss on audio while I was making the long drive from Santa Barbara, back to Humboldt, my home base. She was describing how creativity manifests through the chakras, beginning with divine inspiration and insight, which is received through the upper chakras, the chakras that are calibrated to the non-physical and our internal power.  The inspiration passes through the fifth chakra, located at the throat, where we speak the idea either to ourselves or someone else.

It continues its passage down to our heart chakra where we get a felt sense of what it would feel like to bring this inspiration into fruition.  It is then that things begin to get clouded up in the lower chakras, which are the chakras that engage us with our physical or external power; these are the chakras where we bring things forth into this world.

This is where our creativity gets blocked, gets stopped in its tracks, and is unable to grow roots into its physical form.

In order to engage in our creative expression, we must work through the blocks in our second and third chakras to bring forth that which wants to be brought forth.

What have you been divinely inspired to do? Is your soul longing to paint or draw? Do you feel the call to write? To create a blog or write a book? Are business ideas swirling around in your head but unable to take root? The creative inspiration that calls to us is limitless in its possibilities.

How do you know a creative idea is divinely inspired? You will know because it will be tugging at your heart strings, it will not let you go unless you fight it for so long that it decides to move on to somebody else who is ready to bring this inspiration into the world; although it will never be the same, because only you can uniquely bring forth that which you have been called to do.

The idea often may seem extremely absurd. And crazy. But it won’t leave you be and you must act because transformation will be the result.  Expansion will be the result.  And if we are not expanding and growing, we are not fully living.

Our minds regularly get in the way.  The energetic imbalances in our body’s subtle energy system get in the way.  These imbalances are the result of our life experiences such as being children who were taught in school that failure is wrong and bad. Being taught by our society that we must be productive and focused on outcome, instead of engaging the world with a spirit of curiosity and inquiry. Perhaps we experienced compare and despair at a young age or were told our creations were not up to par.  All of these experiences can hold us back.

Creativity allows us to play.  It is our birthright to play and to explore, just for the sake of playing and exploring.  Sometimes this will bring forth some great work of creation that transforms many, sometimes the act is just meant to be transformational for yourself.  The thing is, you cannot know. And you must trust. Creativity is bigger than you, and while it is expressed through you, once it is in the world, it is out of your hands.

Liz Gilbert says, “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody:  courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust…” If you are held back in any of these areas, you will never see the fruit of the creativity that is longing to be born through you.

You MUST work through your creative blocks.

“If you bring forth that which is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” The Gospel of Thomas

As your creativity passes through your seventh, sixth, fifth, and fourth chakras, it makes its way to the third, located at the solar plexus.  This is our core.  Our site of personal empowerment, where our ego and self-esteem reside.  Where we engage our self-discipline and confidence.  This is also where our spontaneity and sense of playfulness emerge.  If you’ve got a creative idea, but feel unable to bring it forth, explore the questions below, focusing your attention to your core as you ponder the following.

If I fail at this creative endeavor, will I feel shame? If yes, explore why.

How is my self-esteem? Can I handle any criticism I may receive?

Am I lacking confidence?

Will this be an act that will be transformational? Can I handle this transformation?

Do I have the self-discipline to manifest this creation?

Do I have the personal power to meet the challenges that I will face?

Am I indecisive?

Will my ego get in the way when it comes to outcome? Am I attached to outcome?

Can I create for the sake of playfulness alone? If not, why?

After you’ve worked through those questions, draw your attention down to the second chakra. This is located in our lower abdomen and has often been associated with creativity because this is physically the site of all creation.

It includes the reproductive organs and is literally where we give birth. Our emotional identity, our desires, and our right to feel and have pleasure all live within this chakra.

Guilt also lives here, and guilt can be a huge roadblock to creativity because we often see creativity as a waste of time when we are engaged in our busy lives with the endless responsibilities we have taken on.  Bringing your awareness to your lower abdomen, explore the following questions.

Will this creative act take time away from my responsibilities? Is this a problem?

Will I feel guilty for taking the time and resources needed to explore this inspiration?

Is there a financial risk involved in this pursuit? Am I willing to take that risk, why or why not?

Will this change my life physically or emotionally? Can I handle those changes?

Am I deserving of this?

Do I have proper boundaries in my life to create space to nurture this into being?

Am I allowed to engage in this act just for pleasure’s sake or for the sake of curiosity? Am I attached to an outcome?

Is there some outside power or authority which is keeping me from this?

Am I too depleted to have the endurance to create?

Am I addicted to control?

Am I in a scarcity mindset, believing that this has already been done, so why engage?

After you have explored all of these questions, you will have more information to know why and where you are blocked.  To know what beliefs are keeping you from bringing your inspiration into reality.

Once you have processed your blocks, only then can your creative idea pass through the first chakra, the root chakra, and take root into the world.  To plant the seedling and nurture it into the strong and majestic full grown tree that it was meant to be.  To be transformed by the experience of engaging in this act.

It will always involve risk and will involve leaving your comfort zone. Alan Alda says, “The creative place is the place where no one has ever been.  You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you will discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

We find ourselves through the creative process.  We learn about ourselves and we learn about the world.

It is a transformational act, even if it is only you who has been transformed in the process.  But you can’t know who or what will be transformed, you simply have to trust. You have to engage.  You are creative, you are creation. As Martha Graham says, you must remember, “There is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” Only you can bring forth that which is within you.

Take the first step today, and explore what it is that is holding you back. The world needs your creative expression. Without creation, we have nothing.

Why Weird is Awesome

“Where’s your will to be weird?” –Jim Morrison

 

I have been working on fully embracing my weirdness—and I have to say, it is pretty scary.

You see, I am into some pretty weird things. By weird, I mean things that my family or certain friends might reject or consider to be out of the norm—which ultimately only means it is out of the norm for them. Because there is a tribe for everything out there that is weird. We just have to find our tribe.

I find myself afraid to share my weirdness with those who are close to me because I fear rejection, and this is a very natural fear. Recently, I decided to start putting my work out into the world on a larger scale when I created my website and started blogging. I let all of my weirdness hang out, and it was (and is) scary as hell!

This is who I am: Someone who loves exploring the unconscious aspects of self, regularly analyzing dreams and participating in Active Imagination. I am fascinated by subtle energy—the body’s chakra system, the meridians, and how tapping can produce somatic and psychological release. I love diving into symbolism and exploring the possibility of a holographic universe and the fact that the whole—past, present, and future—may be contained within every cell. I love Kundalini Yoga and Yoga Church. I love listening to crazy music while practicing my Vinyasa Flow. I might one day try a naked yoga class (Ha!). I like to use foul language and do things that may shock people. These are just a few of the weird things that I love.

Let’s look at what weird means. According to Merriam-Webster, Weird is: Unusual or Strange.  This is entirely subjective. What does strange mean? Again, Merriam-Webster says: Different from what is usual, normal or expected. Or, not known, heard or seen before.

You may or may not think some of the things on my list are weird, and it depends on whether or not you are my tribe. Maybe we are a tribe in some areas, but not in others.

The bottom line is that to thrive—we must all embrace our weird. We must also bring forth that which is not known, heard, or been seen before, in essence, that which is, by definition, strange.

Embracing your weird is scary. The fear is a result of processes occurring in the reptilian brain—we need our social systems to survive and thrive. And what I love may be rejected by those closest to me, and that is scary. We need connection—that is what we are here for and any threat to this will naturally lead to fear.

However, not embracing your weird is a rejection of your authentic self—which is more dangerous than worrying about whether or not your friends will embrace the fact that you love going to naked yoga classes.

We live in an amazing time of global connection with access to the internet, and our tribe is out there. We can find our tribe and connect with others who share in our weirdness and live as our fullest expression of ourselves, which is actually in harmony with the direction the universe has been heading for the past 13.8 billion years.

I just finished watching Rob Bell’s, Everything is Spiritual, for the second time (it’s amazing, I highly recommend that you watch it!). You see, the universe is WEIRD. Let’s check it out.

It all started with a single bang, a single particle. Those particles bonded to create atoms.  Atoms joined to form molecules. Molecules joined to create cells. And cells began to build life systems—leading to the creation of humans and who we are today.

What is so weird is that scientists have been able to deconstruct this process and have identified that atoms can be taken apart into particles, and even those particles can be de-constructed—150 subatomic particles have been identified (Quantum Physics—some pretty trippy stuff!).

This is where it gets really freaking weird. Subatomic particles behave in ways that we can’t understand. They can appear at Point A and leave at Point B, without traveling the distance between. They can also travel every single possible route from Point A to Point B. WEIRD, right?

For 13.8 billion years the universe has been ever expanding. 13.8 billion years of ongoing creation. Trip out on that thought during your next yoga practice.

It has also been increasing in complexity, depth, AND unity—everything in the universe wants to be a part of something bigger than itself. We are in a natural forward movement, and when you’re resisting this you will feel dis-ease because you are going against what the universe has been doing for billions of years!

A lot of us in the yoga community can get pretty weird (no pun intended!) about other new forms of weird yoga that are popping up. Just Google “weird yoga” and you will find: Naked Yoga, Cannabis Yoga, Dog Yoga, Equine Yoga, Aerial Yoga, Karaoke Yoga, Twerking Yoga…and that’s just to name a few.

No matter what you believe, this is in line with the trajectory of where the universe is heading.  Yoga is increasing in complexity, depth, and unity. Unity because more and more people are embracing the practice because they are finding their own little weird niche. The niche that is calling to their soul—to their unique expression of self.

The universe is in constant creation. It wants us to be weird—it is the nature of all of existence. It wants us to create. So who am I to not create something that is speaking to my soul? Who am I to not love what I love? Because love is also fundamental to the laws—love requires tremendous complexity, depth, and unity. So if you’re not following that which you love, no matter how weird it may seem, you are resisting the natural forward momentum of the universe.

Embrace your weird.

Embrace what you love.

Embrace the weird of others.

Don’t let your primitive, reptilian brain hold you back from following your heart towards that which is calling to you—no matter how weird that calling may seem. Your tribe is out there.  You can Google it.

 

The Key to Mastery is Failing First

The 2016 Summer Olympics have got me thinking about the concept of mastery and how I can take my pursuits to the next level.

If you are anything like me, you have probably dreamed of success, but your fear of failure has been standing in your way. We tend to think things such as:

  • “If I fail, what does that mean about me and my value as a person?”
  • “What will people think of me?”
  • “Will I be able to withstand the shame of being seen as a failure?”

The fear of shame is what has held me back: Fear of being seen as “bad” or “incompetent.” The result of this fear is that for the better part of my life I have tried to play it safe: Taking calculated risks, but never risking greatly, nor often. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps you small, and it also prevents you from attaining mastery.

Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to have had a lesson drilled into my thick head from our kind and benevolent universe: Failure is the path to mastery. We must walk this road to attain that which we seek.

But it’s not simply just failure that we need. It’s failure combined with deep, deliberate practice. I just recently finished reading Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code. He talks about how deep practice is an interesting paradox: We have to practice by operating at the edges of our ability where we are going to make mistakes, and that to master something we must struggle—but it must be a targeted struggle. This means working at your edge, making a mistake, and diving deep into that mistake to find strategies for improvement. So basically, we are practicing making mistakes—we are seeking them out—which seems counterintuitive.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing.

It’s been said that practice makes perfect, but that’s not entirely accurate. We must practice smart: Finding the sweet spot where we are operating at the edge of our ability. And we must stay at that sweet spot, which means constantly evaluating where that spot lies in relation to our practice.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to take to the next level, and it’s my ability as a yoga teacher, coach, and writer. At one point, my list included about 10 of my various interests, but let’s get real: We can’t achieve success or mastery at everything. We’ve got to hone in. We have to narrow our field of vision to dive deep.

I learned through my studies that mastery is the result of myelin insulating neural circuits, and it grows according to certain signals that are sent as the result of your practice. And luckily, myelin is like a muscle: When you use your muscles in a certain way, they respond by getting stronger. Similarly, myelin is also a living tissue that responds by getting faster and more fluent when we are using our skill circuits during deep, deliberate practice. But to build that precious myelin we must fire these skill circuits in the right way by trying to do things that are hard—things that we can at this moment barely do. We need to be at our edge to build that myelin!

Such relief! A light bulb went on when I realized that it is myelin that creates mastery and myelin is like a muscle that I can build. This means that through deep, deliberate practice I can become the yoga teacher that I have always dreamed of being—skillful, intuitive, responsive, and dynamic—through intentional, deliberate practice and immersion in this skill.

If you’re ready to take your practice (whatever that may be!) to the next level, consider the following:

  1. Hone in and be willing to make mistakes.

You’ve got to narrow your focus. What is it that you want to master? What skill is it that you are seeking to improve greatly? Making mistakes and struggling is a necessary component of building myelin, and thus, attaining mastery. In the myelin building process, struggle is not optional—it’s a neurological requirement for your skill circuit to fire optimally. It’s a paradox in that the circuit must fire sub-optimally as well: Mistakes must be made and we must pay attention to those mistakes to get those circuits firing in a way that leads to mastery of our skill. If you have a fear of failure or a fear of making mistakes, dig into why you have this fear before moving forward. Are your desires important enough to make you willing to face your fears?

  1. Immerse yourself in the field.

You must immerse yourself in that which you seek. If you desire to be a master yoga teacher, train with the masters: Seek them out, take their classes, watch classes online—every day. Absorb the picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.

  1. Break it into chunks.

Break the skill into its component pieces. Memorize those parts individually, then link them together into larger groupings. To use the yoga teacher example, break the class into its component pieces. Take just the opening, then deliberately study and practice the opening postures of the class you plan to teach. Practice many variations so that you can responsively and intuitively adapt to the needs of your students. Next, move onto the next chunk of your class, and so on and so forth. Then link it all together. Master teachers in the making often record themselves teaching and then take their own classes to determine what worked and what didn’t so that they can fine tune.

  1. Slow it down.

Slowing it down is vital because it allows us the time and space to closely attend to our errors. When we attend to our errors in this way, we are creating a higher degree of precision with each firing of the circuit. In his book, Coyle talks about how precision is everything when it comes to growing myelin. This means taking your time when you deliberately practice.  You don’t have to practice at the speed you would teach—slow it down to find that precision and those neural circuits will fire, allowing you to teach effortlessly and with ease after your many hours of deliberate practice teaching.

  1. Embrace failure.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing. Hone in on the failure. What exactly wasn’t working?  Slow it down and find a way to remedy that which wasn’t working. Then practice again.

  1. Learn to feel it.

This deliberate practice can’t just be done all in your head. You must feel it.  It must be an entire-body mode of practicing. There are many yoga teachers out there who have thousands of hours of class and a lifetime of knowledge—but they live in their heads. I can always spot these teachers versus the teachers who are living in their bodies. They feel the pulse of the class—they know the feeling their instruction is trying to convey. I have a more profound experience in classes where instructors have learned to feel it.

  1. Stay in the sweet spot.

Once a section of practice finally becomes easeful, there’s no need to practice over and over and over again. Yes, practice makes perfect, but only deliberate practice within the sweet spot. Find your next sweet spot, where you are making mistakes and operating at the edge of your abilities and repeat steps one through six.

  1. Be patient and kind with yourself.

Keep in mind that it takes 10,000 hours of deep, deliberate practice to master a skill. It is not going to happen overnight. But with this deep immersion, you will continue to improve and be well on your way to success. Don’t give up—believe in yourself. The world needs YOU—and it needs you out there offering up your very best.

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Commitment: A Container for Manifesting Your Best Life

I recently attended Wanderlust, a four-day, fun-filled, transformational yoga festival in the beautiful Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, California. The last class I was to participate in, before making the seven-hour trek home, would be the longest class of the festival—a three-hour Kundalini practice with the talented Tommy Rosen.

In class, we engaged in a powerful meditation, and at the end, we were guided to call to mind a word that we wanted to embody in our life. As a result of the lengthy meditation, I was in tune with and connected to my body. The word swiftly emerged, and knowing that it had originated from my open-heart, I embraced the word with open arms: COMMITMENT.

Many years of my life have been spent lacking commitment. I dabbled in sobriety, took classes on any and every topic (quitting if I lost interest), and lived life more or less in reactive mode, caving to the whims of my ever-changing mental preferences. And, not surprisingly, I was unfulfilled. I realized it was my lack of commitment in several areas of my life that was producing this dis-ease.

At this point, I was already engaged in a commitment to my sobriety. I had completely burned that bridge, vowing never to drink again and doing whatever it takes to stick by that commitment. I can see the amazing, beneficial results that directly stem from making this commitment, so why did my unconscious bring forth this word, I asked myself? Where else did I lack commitment? The answer immediately came—it was my lack focus in regards to my professional life. Zig Ziglar says, “The majority of people are ‘wandering generalities’ rather than ‘meaningful specifics.’ The fact is that you can’t hit a target you can’t see. If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

I knew I was a “wandering generality” and this was not what I wanted to be. I had to commit. I had to burn the bridge of dabbling in anything and everything that catches my attention in the moment, and whole-heartedly dive in if I truly want to be of service and turn my years of learning into action. So I wrote my commitment down, signed and dated it.

The thing is, I used to view commitment as a cage, something that would prevent me from exploring and experiencing the many dimensions of life. But this thinking is false. Commitment is a container for manifesting your best life. There is freedom in commitment.

Ask yourself: What in my life needs attention? Where in my life am I feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled? Where do I lack commitment? Next, explore the following:

  • Decide What Needs Your Commitment.

Do you want to change a habit? Decide to commit to change. Is your yoga practice only getting attention when you find the time? Decide to commit to a regular practice. Is there a project you want to start or need to finish? Commit today.

  • Be Specific.

Clearly define what you are committing to, and for how long you are making this commitment. You need a clear plan of action. Maybe this will just be a trial run, and you are only committing for 10 days. If so, great! If you want a regular yoga practice, get specific. Will I practice three days a week? Five? Commit to making that happen. You must be specific. Otherwise, you will be easily derailed.

  • Have Clear Intentions.

Without a meaningful “why” it will be hard to maintain your commitment. Why are you doing this? What feeling are you hoping to attain? What do you want to see happen? What do you want to achieve? Your “why” must be powerful. Otherwise your commitment will be easily shaken as soon as the going gets tough. Write your commitment and your intentions down. Sign and date it.

  • Accountability is Your Friend.

Writing it down is the first step–accountability to yourself. However, it is helpful to share your commitment with others, with those you love and trust.

  • Know That the Universe Will Test Your Commitment.

There will always be something that comes up to make fulfilling your desires a challenge. An event you want to go to that conflicts with your commitment. A thought that tells you it’s not worth the hardship. This is the universe testing you and is the reason behind having a clear intention and a powerful “why.” When the going gets tough, refer to your signed and dated contract that outlines your commitment and details your powerful “why.”

  • Believe in Yourself.

You can do this. Recall other times you have done hard things. Remember that commitment=LOVE. Although it may be tough at times, your commitment is based on self-love, you are doing this for yourself. See this commitment as one that is not a running away from something that you don’t want, rather; it is running towards that which you LOVE–A run towards your best life. You can do this. You can do hard things.

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